Nathaniel Russell’s art is witty and effortlessly insightful, and is beloved by all of us at Jux as well as brands like Vans and Mollusk Surf Shop. He also makes some great music under the name Birds of America. An unabashed proponent of a new creative wave in Indianapolis, you couldn’t find a better tour guide that Mr. Russell, a significant contributor to the emerging rad vibes around town.

Indianapolis by Nathaniel Russell

Nathaniel Russell’s art is witty and effortlessly insightful, and is beloved by all of us at Jux as well as brands like Vans and Mollusk Surf Shop. He also makes some great music under the name Birds of America. An unabashed proponent of a new creative wave in Indianapolis, you couldn’t find a better tour guide that Mr. Russell, a significant contributor to the emerging rad vibes around town.

I grew up here, on the south side, went to school reasonably close, and then went off to California for about ten years. When I came back about five years ago and it felt… different, something’s going on, man. People are doing things, making things happen. There’s a new energy flying around in the breeze. I encourage you to accompany me on a completely subjective and personal journey through some special sights and spaces in my hometown.

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Let’s start things off in the neighborhood of Fountain Square. Located just south of downtown, this neighborhood seems to be where “it” is really happening these days. The first Friday of each month is the traditional city-wide art opening and open studio party night around town, and Fountain Square is right at the creamy center of things. At the heart is the Murphy Building, a former department store that has since been broken up into art studios, galleries, restaurants, venues and bars. My personal favorites are Mt. Comfort, an art gallery on the second floor, and Joyful Noise, a record label and performance space.

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At street level, you have the Indianapolis Museum Of Contemporary Art, which showcases a range of new and experimental work from around the world. Across the street is General Public Collective, which has become a hub of energy and activity from a very talented and productive crew of local folks. They have shows and zines, support local artists and bands, and generally organize and contribute to the contemporary state of radness in Indianapolis.

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Hungry? You have options! Indianapolis has experienced a bit of a culinary renaissance lately. Chefs are trying new things and making a big mark for creative food here in town. Bluebeard has quickly become the food hot spot in town, and if you can manage to get in, you will be stoked on the cocktails and the local take on some classic American food. If you’re more of a breakfast or bruncher, Milktooth is an essential visit for an unconventional morning start. The General American Donut Company is laying down house-made donuts and tasty Stumptown coffee for all the local riff-raff. And there’s always something to be said for the classic greasy spoon, which Peppy’s Grill embodies in full. Open 24 hours, it’s always a friendly place.

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Drink-wise, Thunderbird is also a good bet. Housed in an old rockabilly bar from the ’60s, it serves some of the finest crafty cocktails and beers in the city. Be sure to check out the assemblage piece by artist Kipp Normand: a wall of found brass instruments, broken piano pieces, architectural debris, and a big ol’ capital T.

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North into town and up Delaware Street are the remains of the fabulous 1973 mural Urban Wall by Roland Hobart. Having definitely seen better days, it is still beautiful in all of its abstract crumble and peel, a perfect window into the colorful Indianapolis of the ’70s and a nice touchstone for all the new public art and murals. It’s across the street from the City-County Building, which holds a hidden secret in two elevator rides. 28 floors up is the Observation Deck. It has old science fair-looking displays and informational presentations, plus a unique 360 degree view of the city. 

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Another great mural from the ’70s is a few blocks away between Delaware and Meridian on Washington Street. It’s by James McQuiston and it’s called The Runners. I remember being awed by this as a kid on random trips downtown with my folks. I have a real soft spot for this era, so forgive me because my absolute favorite piece of Indianapolis public art is next up. Walk over to the Federal Building and see Color Fuses by Milton Glaser. This 1975 mural contrasts the brutal weight of the building perfectly with a smooth color gradient that runs the entire city-block-long perimeter of the building. It has recently undergone a full facelift with a repaint and new digital lighting system that rises and falls in a slow rhythm in the early evening hours.

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Did you know that Kurt Vonnegut was from this town? It’s true, and now there is The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Original drawings, photographs, rejection letters—they have it all. And remember that ornate clock designed by his father that he wrote about in Breakfast Of Champions? It’s still there on the corner of Meridian and Washington Streets downtown. Go give it a look and praise Bokonon.

Up College Avenue, you will soon enough come to 52nd Street, my old neighborhood. These days they call it SoBro for South Broad Ripple. On the corner is my favorite record store, Luna Music. I’m biased because I used to work there, and I still make stuff for them, but I feel confident in telling you: this place rules! They will scratch whatever obscure or mainstream LP itch you have, and will probably have a lovely in-store performance going on at the same time. The nice folks behind the counter will gladly point you in the direction of interesting things going on around town that very second. It is a true beacon of positivity.

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Midtown Food Suggestion: best sandwich in the city belongs to Goose The Market, a meat wonderland and cheese haven with a basement wine/beer cellar and charcuterie bar. The sandwiches are hard to beat with new selections weekly. 

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Right around the corner is PRINTtEXT, a beautifully curated periodical, magazine and creative bookstore. Looking for a weirdo French fashion mag? They probably have it. Just a couple blocks up College, you will find Twenty Tap. Indianapolis is losing its mind over craft beers lately, and Twenty Tap is gentle curator of all things hoppy and malt. They have beer from Indiana and surrounding states, with cut-above pub grubbins and vegetarian options. Go for lunch and dip into some of that poutine, a local IPA, and then maybe take a nap. 

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If you’re more into pie than beer, walk down 54th street to the Monon Trail, and you will find Locally Grown Gardens, a former gas station converted to a year-round, chef-run farmstand with local fresh seasonal produce, the best apple pie and coffee in town, and a near-constant reggae soundtrack. A good vibration station location recommendation.

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A little back south and to the west on 38th Street is an obvious but essential place to visit: the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s an institution here in town and has been growing in size and scope since I was a wee pup. The big draw these days seems to be the 100 Acres Art and Nature Park: a green space with woods and fields filled with large sculptures and installations. There’s even a lake with an Andrea Zittel-designed island igloo structure that houses a different resident artist every year. There’s even a lake with an Andea Zittel-designed island-igloo-structure that houses a different resident artist every year. Inside is an extensive and eclectic collection spanning the prehistoric the contemporary. Between the special exhibitions, performances, film screenings and some progressive programming there is always something going on and I am usually surprised by something every time I visit. There’s a lot to look at so give yourself a few hours here, you won’t be sorry. My personal favorite is a piece tucked away in a hallway up on the second or third floor. It is a James Turrell piece form 1976 called “Acton”, a light installation based on his experience as a mail air pilot flying up and down the coast through the fog. Heavy lovely stuff!

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While you’re in that part of town head across the street to the historic crown point cematary to take a peek at the grave of John Dillinger. It’s one of the few places in town with a hill and a view (up at the James Whitcomb Riley tomb). Further out on 38th and you get to Lafayette Square. Many in the city feel this can be a dicey area at times (and they may not be wrong) but it’s home to an incredibly diverse and delicious selection of international food stores and restaurants. This area is also one of the homes to Big Car, a community-oriented arts organization that just celebrated it’s 10th birthday. These guys have constantly brought art and art-making to under-served areas of the city while keeping it fun, absurd and inclusive. They are one of the few art groups that can pull off a Fluxus-inspired performance at the State Fair, a community yoga class, and a residency program along with all the many projects going on at any one time. Truly dedicated lifers, all of them. One of their newish spots is ListenHear, a pop-up space in a Lafayette Square strip mall that focuses on sound art and performance. 

Indianapolis has changed a lot in the past two decades and is brimming with creative people who bring a fresh new energy and perspective to the city. Cruise around, circle back, seek and you shall find. I hope you enjoy your time.

For more information about Nathaniel Russell, visit nathanielrussell.com